Energy costs plunge in Boston, restaurant costs show relatively small rise

According to data released today by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, consumer prices fell by 3.4 percent in the Boston area in July, compared with July 2008. That's a sharper drop than the national decrease of 2.1 percent.

There were major price declines in energy (down 37 percent in Boston and down 28 percent nationally) and motor fuel (down 38 percent both in Boston and at the national level).

But medical care was up 5.6 percent in the Boston area (vs. an increase of 3.2 percent nationally), and the price of clothing was up 5.7 percent (considerably higher than the 1.1 percent national increase).

And, once again, it seems that people in eastern Mass. don't save as much money eating at home as do people in the rest of the country. In July, the cost of "food at home" dropped by 0.9 percent nationally, while the cost of "food away from home" rose by 3.2 percent. But in Massachusetts, the gap was much smaller: Food at home continued to rise in price, by 0.7 percent, while the cost of eating out went up by a modest 2.0 percent.

An oversupply of eateries may be one explanation. According to 2004 data from the National Restaurant Association (see chart at, Massachusetts ranked 9th among states in per-capita dining establishments. We had 28 restaurants for every 10,000 people; the national average was 20 per 10,000 residents.